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U.S. citizen arrested with 26 migrants hidden in water truck near Sasabe

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U.S. citizen arrested with 26 migrants hidden in water truck near Sasabe

  • The border wall east of Sasabe, Arizona in September 2020.
    Paul Ingram/Tucsonsentinel.comThe border wall east of Sasabe, Arizona in September 2020.

A U.S. citizen is facing multiple charges for human smuggling after he attempted to smuggle 26 people into the United States in a rented water truck near Sasabe, Arizona in mid-June. 

Sean Hale, 32, was arrested June 19 by Border Patrol agents near Mirador Ranch, about three miles west of Sasabe, a small border town located about 60 miles southwest of Tucson. Around 5:44 a.m. that day, BP agents were told that about 30 people had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border near the ranch, and that a water truck drove toward the area, according to court records. 

Agents responded, and were told at 5:50 a.m., that same water truck was now traveling eastward on Mirador Road. The agents spotted the truck, and watched as the driver passed by them. Hale was wearing a neon yellow shirt and a white hard hat, and according to agents "did not make eye contact." After he passed, the agents began to follow the truck and ran a records checks on the plate, discovering that the water truck was rented, an agent wrote in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court. 

The agents activated their lights and siren, in an attempt to stop the vehicle, and Hale pulled over, and immediately fled, running northbound into the desert. The agents searched the vehicle, and found 26 people "piled on top of each other" inside the water truck's tank, sweating in the heat. 

Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection — Border Patrol's parent agency — said that border officials "encountered" more than 1.1 million people over the previous 9 months, and that roughly 34 percent of those encounters involved people who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at least once before. In BP's Tucson Sector, agents encountered 18,385 people in June, a decline of around 7 percent from May, and down significantly from a peak of encounters in April. 

One man who was detained by border agents in the water-truck case, identified in court records as Juan Escobar-Rodas, told agents he was in the U.S. illegally. Originally from Guatemala,  Escobar-Rodas told agents that he paid  $1,000 to the local cartel for his "mafia fee," and another $10,000  to be smuggled into the United States. He told agents that around 6 a.m., he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with a guide and 25 other people, and that they walked for about 30 minutes until they reached a water tank, and waited to be picked up. 

Escobar-Rodas told agents that the water truck arrived, and the guide told them to get into the water tank. According to court records, Escobar-Roda said he was "fearful" to get inside the tank because it was "hot and lacked oxygen." 

Hale's case began in June after his arrest, but in July, federal prosecutors and his defense asked the court for more time, arguing that while grand juries are now in session, there is a "substantial backlog" in cases because of COVID-19, which kept grand juries from meeting for most of last year. The deadline to indict is the week of August 18, but the government has not yet provided full disclosure to Hale's defense in part because both sides expect a "fast track" plea deal. 

Moreover, Hale is currently in quarantine at CCA-Florence, federal prosecutors wrote, and his quarantine has been extended until July 27, his lawyer wrote. 

The court agreed, extending the deadline to August 18. 

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